On tonight’s episode of Following The Truth, I mentioned that there are several good books to help you better understand the Mass. Here are a few that I recommend:
On tonight’s episode of Following The Truth, I mentioned that there are several good books to help you better understand the Mass. Here are a few that I recommend:
“If we wish to discover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary, Mother and model of the Church…Mary can guide us toward this most holy sacrament because she herself has a profound relationship with it.” (Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia)
At the center of our Catholic Faith is the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Unfortunately, we often lose sight of or don’t appreciate the profound blessing that we have been granted. If we desire to become better Catholics and improve our relationship with the Lord, we must deepen our love for the Eucharist. How can we do so? One of the best and most underutilized ways is to turn to the Mother of Jesus, Mary. By getting to know her and studying her life, we can grow closer to Our Lord who is fully present in the Eucharist. In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Blessed Pope John Paul II devotes an entire chapter to Mary, “Woman of the Eucharist”. Let’s examine some of his thoughts on how Our Lady can help us better understand the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament
Sometimes referred to as Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Mary can take us by the hand and lead us to a closer relationship with the Eucharistic Christ. While observing that “at first glance”, the Gospel is silent on the subject of Mary and the Eucharist, the late Holy Father makes an interesting observation. We know that Mary was present with the apostles who prayed “with one accord” (Acts 1:14) for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it follows that Mary was most certainly present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the early Christians who were devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). Blessed John Paul II then points to Mary’s interior disposition and observes that Mary is a “woman of the Eucharist” in her whole life.
A Mystery of Faith
Scripture tells us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Eucharist is certainly a mystery of faith and cannot be grasped by our limited human understanding. Accepting Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me”, requires us to deny our senses and humbly submit to His instruction. What better advice can we be given than the words of Mary at the wedding feast of Cana when she stated, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5)? Just as He changed water into wine, He can turn ordinary bread and wine into His Body and Blood. By listening to Mary’s advice, we can accept (without fully understanding) the miracle that occurs on the altar and embrace Our Lord’s words, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54).
The Fiat and the Amen
By offering her womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word, Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist. At the Annunciation, when Mary conceived the Son of God, she foreshadowed what happens to us when we receive Holy Communion. As a result, according to Blessed John Paul II, “there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the Body of the Lord”. Although we sometimes forget the significance of our response to the words “The Body of Christ”, by replying “Amen” we are expressing our belief that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Mary’s belief in the mystery of the Annunciation (“Blessed is she who believed”) anticipates the Church’s belief in the Eucharist.
It is impossible to deny that there is a sacrificial dimension to the Eucharist. The Body and Blood of He whom we receive in this great sacrament was sacrificed for our redemption. Just as suffering was a major part of Our Lord’s life, it was a constant theme in the life of Mary. Beginning with Simeon’s crucifixion prophecy at the Lord’s Presentation (“a sword will pierce your soul”) and culminating with Our Lord’s death on the Cross, Mary had a very real share in the suffering of Christ. In this encyclical, the Holy Father made the following profound observation:
In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of “anticipated Eucharist” – one might say a “spiritual communion” – of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in his passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion.
According to Blessed Pope John Paul II, “in the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and His sacrifice and makes her own the spirit of Mary. This truth can be understood more deeply by re-reading the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key”. He points out that when Mary proclaims “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”, she is praising God “through” Jesus (who is in her womb), “in” Jesus and “with” Jesus. This, he observes, is the true “Eucharistic attitude” and that “the Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat”. Saint Louis de Montfort, who greatly inspired John Paul II, recommended that the Magnificat be recited after the reception of Holy Communion. In doing so, we unite our voice with that of Mary and allow our often weak faith to be infused by her perfect and unfailing faith!
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
During this month devoted to Mary, why not take some time and meditate on her role as Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament? There is no better person to help us increase our appreciation for the Eucharist than the Mother of Our Lord. She knows Him better than any other human. Ask her to help you believe the “unbelievable”!
“Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist.” (Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia)
Maybe I shouldn’t admit this publicly, but I did slip up and say “and also with you” at Mass today. Although I understand that this is the first day that we’ve used the new Roman Missal, I really should know better. I’ve blogged about the changes, devoted radio shows to them and have been looking forward to these modifications for a few years. Unfortunately, I’ll probably slip up again at daily and Sunday Mass. Rather than beat myself up about saying the wrong response, I’m actually thankful that it happened (and will continue to happen). Why? Not because I want to look like a dope, but because it’s teaching me a valuable lesson.
Every time I proclaim “and also with you” instead of “and with your Spirit” it tells me that I’m zoning out and not paying attention at Mass. While that’s not a good thing, awareness of that fact is the first step to recovery. The Mass is the most important activity that takes place on earth and we want to make sure that we’re there mentally as well as physically. At every Mass, we are mystically transported to Calvary and are able to share in the offering of Jesus by offering our lives to the Father. We are also able to receive numerous graces through our worthy participation.
Did you mess up and say the wrong response today? Instead of feeling bad, be thankful for the reminder that you were slipping into “auto pilot” mode and use it as motivation to pay better attention each Sunday. What better way to begin the season of Advent than by realizing that we have some work to do! In this holy season, we focus on preparing to meet the Lord. Guess who appears at every Mass? You got it…the Savior of the world! Paying closer attention and participating more fully at Mass is an excellent way to get ready for the coming of the Lord when you receive Him in Holy Communion. Don’t miss the opportunity!
As mentioned on today’s radio program, here are some resources that will help you to better understand the changes taking place at Mass beginning on November 27, 2011 in the Unites States:
Welcoming The Roman Missal by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (online resources)
A Biblical Walk Through The Mass by Dr. Edward Sri
A Guide To The New Translation of the Mass by Dr. Edward Sri
Mass Revision by Jimmy Akin
Know of any other good material? Send me an email (email@example.com) or post a comment.
While the actual Mass is not changing, beginning on Sunday, November 27th, what we say and hear at Mass (in the United States) will sound a bit different. In order to help you prepare, I’ll be devoting 3 of my Following The Truth BlogTalkRadio programs to a discussion of what’s changing. We’ll review the differences in what the people say, what the priest says and discuss some of the reasons for the changes. Understanding these modifications can definitely help you better appreciate what is taking place at Mass, so don’t miss out!
One of the most common problems among Catholics is a lack of understanding of the Mass. A large number of Catholics believe that we go to Mass because “it’s what Catholics do” or for fellowship and preaching. Without the proper background, most of the prayers heard at Mass don’t really help us to understand what is taking place. What’s with all the sitting, standing and mysterious wording? In reality, what goes on at every Mass is an incomprehensible miracle. We are mystically transported 2,000 years in the past to Our Lord’s crucifixion at Calvary. Even more astonishing is the fact that we not only get to witness Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father for our salvation, but we get to offer ourselves along with Him. If that’s not enough, at Mass we receive the grace we need to one day get to Heaven!
Unfortunately, unless you already know what I just said, it’s hard to figure that out from the prayers of the Mass. In reality, however, just about every prayer said at Mass has a Biblical origin. Knowledge of this fact can go a long way in understanding what takes place at Mass. Still the question remains…how can we understand the wording and the Biblical references? One positive development is that, beginning in Advent of this year, some of the prayers of the Mass will be changing to more appropriately reflect the original Latin wording. This is a good thing because, with proper explanation, this wording will help us to see the Biblical connection and to better understand what is taking place at Mass.
Still not excited? Fortunately, I have some even better news! I’ve recently run across one of the best and easiest to understand books on the Mass that I’ve ever seen. A Biblical Walk Through The Mass by Dr. Edward Sri (2011, Ascension Press) not only explains the parts of the Mass in layman’s terms, but illustrates the Biblical origin of the prayers. Those of you who are familiar with Dr. Sri’s work will find the same simple, but substantial, approach used in his other writings. Divided into 24 short chapters (each corresponding to one part of the Mass), you’ll find this to be a difficult book to put down. Time and time again, you’ll find yourself saying, “So that’s why we do that”!
Even better is the fact that this book is part of a parish education series, which includes DVDs, CDs, student and leader guides. It would be a perfect resource for parish study groups and will not only address the new Mass translation, but the entire liturgy. There is a great need for a package such as this and it couldn’t be released at a better time. With many parishes looking for resources that explain the new translation, this is the perfect answer.
I have stated before (and I still believe) that the only reason people leave the Catholic Church is due to a lack of understanding of what we believe, especially the Mass. I hear a lot of talk about miracles and the desire to witness one. Sadly, a miracle takes place each day on the altar of every Catholic church but is often unnoticed. Do yourself a favor and check out this book (and all of the materials) so that you’ll have a better understanding for the greatest event that takes place on earth – the Mass!
Being someone who is very much “into” all things Catholic, I sometimes forget how I approached my faith 10 or 15 years ago. To summarize, my position was, “I’ll go to Mass, but don’t bother me with any of that religious stuff outside of Church”. Actually, I’m being a little hard on myself, I would sometimes pray when I needed something Sounds like a good, healthy spiritual life, doesn’t it? In reality, that position summarizes the approach of most Mass-attending Catholics.
Why do I bring this up? I was reading an interesting article over at the Our Sunday Visitor website, which stated that (according to a recent survey) most Catholics in the United States are unaware of the Mass revisions that will be take effect on November 27, 2011. While there are multiple reasons for this ignorance (lack of interest, lack of enthusiasm of clergy, the fact that you have to actually read the parish bulletin instead of just taking it home, etc.), it’s still something that should be addressed.
If you live in the United States, you will soon be saying some different responses at Mass. These changes will take effect on November 27, 2011. In addition, the priest will be saying some different things as well.
While the changes aren’t drastic, they are important. If explained properly, these changes will help you to better understand what is taking place at Mass. And that is a GOOD thing! I hope you check back here often over the next few months, as I’m going to spend a lot of time addressing the new responses. While I promise to use simple language, I will make sure you get the important concepts.
Here’s a link to the article from OSV and, if anyone asks, you can now say you know about the Mass revisions!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that familiar phrase. Sadly, I have to admit that I’ve even used it myself. As a Catholic apologist, I obviously need to have a response for this complaint – and I do. The answer is actually very simple. My answer to anyone who claims that Mass is boring is this…
You don’t understand it!
Make no mistake about it, this is a very common and serious problem among Catholics. At the very least, it could cause us to miss out on the many graces that are available for the taking. At worst, it can cause Catholics to leave the Church, putting their salvation in jeopardy, because they found another church service that had better music, preaching or entertainment.
I recently was given an old missal that belonged to my wife’s grandmother. At the beginning of the section on Holy Mass is the following simple, but powerful, explanation:
Holy Mass is the highest act of Divine Worship. It is the renewal of the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary which merited the infinite grace of Redemption. In measure as you unite with the Victim Jesus in offering this Sacrifice to God and nourish your soul with His Sacred Body and Blood in Holy Communion, to that extent you apply to yourself the graces of the Redemption. (Mary My Hope Missal, Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1961)
None of us reading this were present at Calvary when Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins. Every time we attend Holy Mass, however, we are mystically transported to that event, not as a spectators, but as participants. We are invited to offer ourselves to the Father, along with Jesus. The more sincere our offering, the more grace we will receive. Why is grace important, you might ask? Very simple – it’s what we need to get to Heaven!
So, the next time you hear someone complain that Mass is boring (or you’re tempted to say it yourself), I recommend that you think about this simple explanation buried in an old Missal. I also encourage you to read as much as you can about the Mass, in order to increase your appreciation of this great event. My Recommended Resources page lists some books that will also point you in the right direction.
“To me, nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass. It is not a mere form of words – it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)
I had a great experience this morning. My family and I attended Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Merchantville, NJ. While this is not my regular parish, I do attend daily Mass there. For some time, however, I’ve wanted to experience their Sunday Mass. Today my family and I went and I was blown away!
What was so special about this Mass (and this parish), you might ask? Every action, no matter how small, showed tremendous respect for Our Lord and helped me to better understand what was taking place at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Here’s some of what I saw:
- Six altar servers, 4 of whom knelt directly before the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. Two of them also carried candles and stood beside the priest as he read the Gospel.
- Bells were rung during the consecration
- Two additional priests and a deacon assisted the main celebrant in distributing Holy Communion.
- Hymns were all Catholic and traditional.
- Ushers stood and watched people receiving Communion to ensure that nobody treats the Blessed Sacrament with disrespect.
- No, and I mean NO, improvising during the Eucharistic prayer.
- No hand holding during the Our Father (like it or not, folks, this is a Protestant practice and Catholics are not supposed to do it!)
- Real Catholic teaching in the homily!
Some of you may read this and think, “What’s the big deal? This is the way my parish does it”. If that’s the case consider yourself blessed because many Catholics are not that fortunate. I’ve personally experienced many irreverent actions at Mass. I’ve even encountered a priest who regularly ad-libs his way through the Eucharistic prayer, even modifying Our Lord’s words of institution. Many of us who try to raise issues like this often get accused of being Pharisaical and too rigid.
As a Catholic, don’t let anyone ever tell you that details don’t matter, especially when it comes to the celebration of the Holy Mass. We are flawed and imperfect humans who are easily distracted and need all of the help we can get when it comes to our faith. Attention to the details at Mass reminds us of the fact that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ is TRULY present on that altar. That fact often gets missed because of careless and lackadaisical actions on the part of people who should know better. If we really believe that Jesus Christ is present at Mass and that we are being transported to and participating in His Sacrifice on Calvary, then we should act like it!
Father Anthony Manuppella, the pastor of St. Peter’s does a fantastic job of helping his parishioners to better live their Catholic Faith. Please visit their website and if you’re ever in the Merchantville, NJ area, make sure make a visit to this outstanding Catholic parish!
For the record, I don’t like holding hands during the Our Father, participating in a “love fest” during the sign of peace, and talking in Church before/after Mass. I don’t appreciate it when there are more extraordinary ministers than parishioners or when a large number of musicians perform in the sanctuary. I cringe when priests ad-lib during the Mass, especially during the Eucharistic prayer. And why do I dislike these things, you may ask? Simple – Because we’re not supposed to do them!
Now that I got my personal feelings out of the way, let’s discuss how we should handle the liturgical abuses/annoyances we run across. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve found to be effective, some of which may surprise you:
Question your motives - The first question we should ask is “Why is this bothering me so much”? I know from personal experience that our annoyance sometimes results from excessive pride. One of the unfortunate by-products of studying the Catholic Faith is that we sometimes start to feel smarter than our fellow parishioners (or priests). We’ve read the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) from cover to cover and know that Father is definitely not supposed to be doing “this or that” and we’re going to tell him. Why? Is it because there is really harm being done or is it because we think that we’re smarter than him? Some prayerful meditation on this question may provide a surprising answer. Sometimes recognizing our true motives can be difficult, but it should be the first step in dealing with these situations.
Set a good example – One of the most frustrating things about liturgical abuses or a lack of reverence at Mass is that it is often outside of our control. However, while I can’t control the behavior of the priest or other parishioners, I can control my own actions. If you’re annoyed that people are talking before and after Mass, try setting a good example by closing your eyes and praying. While it’s often difficult to concentrate, it does have an effect on others and discourages them from interrupting your prayers. In addition to discouraging others from interrupting your prayers, this action provides a good example of reverent behavior.
Ignore it - It’s important to differentiate between severe liturgical abuses and mere annoyances. If the priest is saying “this REPRESENTS my Body” instead of “this IS my Body” when consecrating the Host, you’ve got a big problem on your hands. This could very well invalidate the consecration and should be brought to the attention of your pastor or bishop. If, on the other hand, he is not elevating the host high enough or people are holding hands during the Our Father, it would probably be better to “look the other way” and concentrate on the Mass. Satan uses many tricks to distract us at Mass and this is one of his favorites. Don’t fall for it!
Take action- After prayer and analysis, you may determine that the abuse is so serious that you must take action. If you choose to write a letter to your pastor or bishop, make sure it’s signed. An anonymous letter will be thrown in the trash. If you speak to them in person, always remember to be charitable. Aside from being ineffective, having an “attitude” could very well cause you to sin, which is the last thing you want.
Once you’ve made the decision to either ignore the situation or pursue it, let it go and move on. At this point, it’s out of your hands and you should not let it become a distraction. While I don’t recommend switching parishes in haste, sometimes it’s necessary. Before you decide to pursue a new parish, however, make sure you take the matter to prayer. Whatever you do, keep your focus on the Lord. Losing sight of Him is worse than any liturgical abuse that you’ll ever encounter!